A Glance at ‘Vanity Fair’–J. Holt Schooling (August 1901)

Vanity Fair ran from 1868 to 1914. This article isn’t about the magazine itself, but about the caricatures which ran in the magazine for many years, and which are now the main reason it is remembered. You can see several more of the caricatures from the pages of Vanity Fair, in colour, at the wikipedia page. There don’t seem to be any easily accessible full issues of the actual magazine available to view anywhere online, sadly. Many of the politician ‘celebrities’ are less celebrated now, although you may well recognise Kitchener from the WW1 ‘your country needs you’ poster.

[All the accompanying cartoons are from the pages of “Vanity Fair” and they are shown here by special permission.]

The first number of Vanity Fair was published November 7, 1868. It was the first of the modern weekly society journals. In the thirteenth number, published January 30, 1869, the first of the famous cartoons was included–the long series of the most remarkable portraits of the men who live or who have lived prominently in Vanity Fair. We have here actual portraits, whose truth is most deftly emphasized by the admixture of caricature–not lessened by it. For this reason one may say rightly that the Vanity Fair cartoons more truly show to us the men as they were, or as they are, than many a more ambitious canvas painted by an artist who must not introduce that peculiar shade of emphatic caricature truth which is contained in the brilliant cartoons of Vanity Fair.


The first cartoon published by Vanity Fair was that shown in No. 1, of Lord Beaconsfield when he was plain Benjamin Disraeli. As I have said, it was issued with the thirteenth number of Vanity Fair, and it was by an accident that this leading feature of a well-known society paper was introduced into its life. One day, thirty-two years ago, Mr. Bowles, the proprietor of the paper, chanced to meet at dinner Signor Carlo Pellegrini, an Italian refugee, who was a clever artist, and the result of that chance meeting was the institution of the Vanity Fair cartoons.


Cartoon No. 2 shows us a portrait of Lord Salisbury in the year 1869; then, he was described by “Jehu Junior,” the writer of the biographies in Vanity Fair, as “too honest a Tory for his party and his time.” Now, he seems to us to be a very honourable, capable, level-headed, far-seeing statesman, who during the years 1896-1901 has steered this country through many most difficult and complex places of danger created by the pressure of foreign affairs.


In No. 3 we have a picture of Earl Russell–Lord John Russell. He was Prime Minister of England during 1846-1852 and during 1865-1866; he was a great Liberal statesman, quite honest and courageous, and he died quietly in 1878.


We all know Sir William Harcourt. He was Mr. W. G. G. V. Vernon-Harcourt, M.P., when cartoon No. 4 was published in 1870.


The Sage of Chelsea–Thomas Carlyle–looks at us from No. 5. He was, says “Jehu Junior,” “the stoutest-hearted Pagan, tempered by Christianity, that ever breathed.”


The cartoon of the Marquis of Lorne, now Duke of Argyll, No. 6, was published in Vanity Fair just after the announcement of his engagement to marry the Princess Louise.


In No. 7 the late Mr. Charles Darwin looks glad that he has been naturally selected to survive. Mr. Wilkie Collins, the first “sensation” novelist, is shown in No. 8.


Mr. John Ruskin is shown to us in cartoon No. 9, as he was in the year 1872. During his working days he proved himself to be “a very Turner in the use of English prose,” and he was a most generous and self-willed man. He wrote magnificently about art and about other things–political economy, for example–where his claim to our admiration is more doubtful.


And yet he wrote the following very sensible letter, in May, 1886, to a person who had asked him for some money to pay a debt on a chapel:–

Sir,–I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world the precisely least likely to give you a farthing! My first word to all men and boys who care to hear me is, Don’t get into debt; starve and go to Heaven–but don’t borrow. Try first begging; I don’t mind, if it’s really needful, stealing! But don’t buy things you can’t pay for! And, of all manner of debtors, pious people building churches they can’t pay for are the most detestable nonsense to me. Can’t you preach and pray behind the hedges–or in a sand-pit, or in a coal-hole–first? And, of all manner of churches thus idiotically built, iron churches are the damnablest to me. And, of all the sects of believers in any ruling spirit–Hindoos, Turks, Feather idolaters, and Mumbo Jumbo, Log and Fire Worshippers, who want churches, your modern English Evangelical sect is the most absurd, and entirely objectionable and unendurable to me! All which they might very easily have found out from my books–any other sort of sect would!–before bothering me to write it to them. Ever, nevertheless, and in all this saying, your faithful servant, John Ruskin.

The recipient of this pleasing letter promptly sold it, and so got some money for his tin-pot chapel.


Cartoon No. 10 represents Mr. Frederick Leighton, A.R.A., a beautiful man with a delicate taste for form and colour, who in later life became Lord Leighton, P.R.A.


The next cartoon, No. 11, is very interesting, apart from its intrinsic merit as a fine portrait of the late Professor Richard Owen–the eminent zoologist, anatomist, and pal√¶ontologist (I don’t know what this last word means)–shortly, he was called “Old Bones.” For this fine cartoon is the first that was done for Vanity Fair by Mr. Leslie Ward (“Spy”), who for more than twenty-eight years has been so prominent in the Vanity Fair cartoons.

Mr. Leslie Ward is the son of the late E. M. Ward, R.A., and of Henrietta Ward, the painter, and he is also the great-grandson of James Ward, R.A., so famous “Spy” has a plenty of artistic talent in his heredity. He was educated at Eton, he is a sportsman, and the most modest of men as to his own work, which is, as we shall see for ourselves, fully equal to the best thing that Carlo Pellegrini ever did. Moreover, Mr. Ward is able to make a good cartoon out of any of his long list of subjects awaiting weekly execution; but Pellegrini, who was a chartered libertine, would undertake only those cartoons whose subjects were obviously well adapted to caricature representation in Vanity Fair.

Mr. Leslie Ward became connected with Vanity Fair in 1873 by the chance sight that Sir John Millais got of one of young Ward’s caricatures. Millais was a friend of Leslie Ward’s father, and he promptly marched the young artist off to Mr. Gibson Bowles at the office of Vanity Fair, and introduced him with the words, “Here is the man you want!”

Mr. Leslie Ward was the man wanted, and he has remained “wanted” by Vanity Fair and by the British public ever since.


His cartoon in No. 12, of Mr. Anthony Trollope, did not please the novelist, but the late Edmund Yates was so impressed by the truth of this cartoon that when he was starting his newspaper, The World, Mr. Yates asked Leslie Ward to do a cartoon for it weekly. But Mr. Ward was not able to undertake the work.


No. 13 was done by Pellegrini; its subject is the late Sir Arthur Sullivan, the composer of the beautiful tuneful music which has so often been joined in the Savoy operas with the quaint and polished wit of Mr. W. S. Gilbert.


Sir Henry Irving was Mister and thirty-seven when, in 1874, Pellegrini made cartoon No. 14, representing Henry Irving as Mathias in “The Bells”; a piece of acting that, with Digby Grand in “The Two Roses,” had then lately done much to send our leading actor to the top of the tree.


The early portrait of Lord Rosebery seen in No. 15 was done by Leslie Ward in 1876, when the young Primrose was engrossed with his horses and trainers and with getting his racing colours–eau de nile and primrose–well to the front at Epsom and Ascot. The concluding and prophetic words of the notice in Vanity Fair that faced this cartoon were, “He may, if he will, become a statesman and a personage.”


Mr. Leslie Ward went to Birmingham for the purpose of “doing” Cardinal Manning, but he did Mr. Chamberlain instead–see No. 16.


The cartoon of Dr. W. G. Grace, No. 17, was done in Mr. Leslie Ward’s studio; W. G. dressed for the occasion.


Cartoon No. 18, of Sir. L. Alma-Tadema, was done by Pellegrini.


Mr. John Roberts, the greatest of billiard-players, chalks his cue in No. 19. To see this man play a series of cannons round the table makes one think that the balls are drawn about by invisible mechanism, so marvellously easy and true are his strokes.


No. 20 is the “Industrious Apprentice” of years ago, when he and Lord Randolph Churchill were both members of the little Fourth Party in the House of Commons. This most popular statesman is now First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House. He will be Prime Minister.


Mr. Max Beerbohm’s only contribution to Vanity Fair is shown in No. 21–a cartoon of Mr. George Meredith–done more after the older fashion of caricature than in the more modern style of portraiture that characterizes Mr. Leslie Ward’s work.


Grim Kitchener looms large in No. 22–a hard, long-headed, obstinately-decided soldier, who has made himself by his foresight, attention to detail, and persistence. He won control of the Soudan without a mistake, and he is now carrying out in South Africa a work in which his characteristic virtues are having their sure, if slow, reward.


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